Enterprise for All? A View from England....

By Catherine Brentnall

Enterprise education in England has been through something of a dry spell over the last couple of years. The global financial crisis, and subsequent lingering recession, seriously impacted on public investment in enterprise education. Funding streams at home and abroad that resourced enterprise projects dried up. Budgets for local councils, which supported enterprise education through re-generation or school improvement departments, were cut. Globally, organisations including the OECD, UNCTAD and the EU reacted to the new financial landscape by increasing their focus on the potential of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial education. In England, the opposite seemed true. The educational policy agenda shifted, with the coalition government reversing policy incentives for schools to prioritise enterprise education. The result was that even some enterprise education initiatives with the funding to work in schools free of charge could be heard saying: ‘We can’t give it away.’

Over this time, many enterprise organisations ceased to exist. Losses were varied, including some Education Business Partnerships, geographically based enterprise projects such as Blackpool Hero, and campaigns like Take Charge, to name but a few. In the meantime, the issues that enterprise educators were working to address – young people’s disengagement from education, lack of work and business knowledge, experience and networks, and precarious transitions from education to finding and making work – still loomed large.

Those left in the field in 2014 felt a slight wind of change, signalled by a series of government reports which highlighted the importance of enterprise in education and marked a renewed interest in the idea that qualifications alone are not necessarily a guarantee of success, either for young people, or for UK PLC.

In February, a report was issued from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Micro-Business, led by Ann Marie Morris MP. ‘An Education System fit for an Entrepreneur’, took in the current state of enterprise education in England, highlighted good practice, and set out the challenges for scaling such work. A key message was that to achieve a coherent enterprise learning journey for young people, teachers needed training and support, and to be working in a policy environment that enabled the prioritisation of

enterprising practice and culture. The report called for enterprise education to be a mandatory part of the national curriculum for 4 to 18 year olds, and recommended that government should have an overarching strategy across departments with regards to enterprise education.

In April, Matthew Hancock, the then Minister for Skills and Enterprise, issued new statutory ‘Careers guidance and inspiration in schools’, with substantial mentions for enterprise. This guidance was a response to a critical Ofsted report, ‘Careers: Going in the right direction?’ which was published in 2013 and set out evidence from its inspections that showed schools weren’t doing enough to educate young people about what they might do with their future. The report set out a series of musts and shoulds to better prepare young people for life after school. The statutory responsibilities on schools were limited - schools must provide impartial careers information, advice and guidance for 12-18 year olds that is informative and in their best interests. The majority of the document is a worthy list of shoulds, with many aspects familiar to enterprise educators. Among other things the report states schools should enable young people to: develop enterprise skills, take enterprise qualifications, develop entrepreneurial skills for self-employment, develop a range of personal capabilities from resilience to team work, have frequent contacts with employers, develop decision making and problem solving by tackling real life challenges and experience a learning environment where they can manage risk. Each one of these points takes careful planning and implementation, by teachers, and in partnership with businesses, employers, entrepreneurs and the community, to impact on all young people through the curriculum, if the ambition of the report is to be achieved. The resource and skill to do this effectively should not be underestimated. Taking the last point – ‘creating a learning environment where young people manage risk’ requires that teachers have some knowledge of risk and uncertainty, its role in the entrepreneurial way of life, what pedagogical approach that translates to and the time to adapt their planning and test, evaluate and improve the integration of this new element. And this is where the reality of translating guidance into practice gets a little foggy. Setting these out as ‘should haves’ rather than ‘must haves’ may impact on time and resource invested by schools. The other clear issue is that even if the guidance was adopted in full, it is for secondary schools only – a case of right idea, too late. Research which informed the development of our early intervention approaches showed that young people’s beliefs about what was and was not possible for their future were set before the end of their primary education.

In June, Lord Young, the Prime Minister’s Enterprise Advisor, published his review, Enterprise for All. For those involved in the review, ourselves included, it was a welcome chance to demonstrate the potential of enterprise and the current impediments to its wider uptake. The review made a flurry of recommendations, including rolling out the business competition, Fiver, to more primary school pupils, developing an online Enterprise Passport to record involvement in activities, creating a new network of Enterprise Advisors to help Head Teachers develop enterprise, the use of in-service training time for teachers to spend time in business and industry, measuring the employment and earnings outcomes of students from different universities and courses, a compulsory start up model for all vocational students, and a new E-Star award sponsored by HRH the Duke of York to highlight universities providing excellent entrepreneurial opportunities for students. Whilst these pursuits, if well executed, could be good additions to the (not inconsiderable) range of enterprise activities that already exist, they don’t tackle the systemic issues that prohibit wider uptake of enterprise learning.

To make progress in achieving enterprise for all requires a change in policy to make it a statutory learning entitlement for young people through the national curriculum. High quality professional development at all levels, from Initial Teacher Training, to Continuing Professional Development, would support educators to develop the skills and motivation to drive these changes. Like other aspects of teaching and learning, its quality should be validated through existing accountability measures, like the Ofsted inspection framework and inspection process. Indeed, Ofsted has already captured much evidence about what good practice and persistent weaknesses in enterprise education look like.

Since developing our first enterprise education programme, Rotherham Ready, in 2005, we have advocated for, and supported educators to work towards the development of a coherent enterprise entitlement that impacts on young people from as soon as they start school aged four, and all the way through their education.  In my next article, I will describe how we have evolved our approaches to address the challenges highlighted at the start of this article by developing Ready Hubs, a model which facilitates collaboration between a secondary school, its partner primaries and young people, business, parents and the wider community to co-produce a sustainable enterprise entitlement.